Common Sources of Food Borne Illness


How it’s Spread:

Foods commonly Found in or History of Outbreaks From:

Symptoms/Special Risks:

How to Reduce your Risk

(second most common form of food borne illness in the US)

Through contaminated water, food or person, through contact with turtles, frogs and other


Eggs, meat, poultry, dairy, contaminated water (and produce.)

Nausea, vomiting, cramps.

Proper food handling. Avoid or wash hands after handling pets and pet’s food and water.


From the stools of many farm and domesticated animals, which can contaminate water. Commonly associated with poultry.

Raw and undercooked

 poultry, unpasteurized (raw) milk and cheeses made with it, contaminated water in streams and ponds.

Fever, diarrhea, vomiting, cramping/ miscarriage, stillborn birth, rare: autoimmune disorders.

Proper food handling. Use only pasteurized milk.

Escherichia coli (E coli)

Contaminated food or water. Cause of “traveler’s diarrhea”.

Any food at risk of fecal contamination. Most often transmitted by poor hand hygiene.

Sudden onset of diarrhea, sometimes cramps and low grade fever.

Cook meat, especially ground beef to safe internal temperature. Wash hands thoroughly, wash raw fruits and vegetables, avoid raw sprouts.

Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC)

Contaminated food, dirty hands.

Ground beef and beef products, raw milk, bagged spinach, alfalfa sprouts, unpasteurized juice and contaminated water. Contact with animals at a petting zoo.

Severe abdominal cramping, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea which can become bloody. Kidney failure.

Cook ground beef to proper internal temperature, wash raw fruits and vegetables, avoid sprouts. Wash hands thoroughly.

Clostridium perfringens

Called “leftover disease” because it’s often caused by not heating leftovers enough, or keeping at room temperature too long.

Meats and

 poultry, gravies and stews, Mexican foods.

Watery diarrhea and mild abdominal cramps.

Reheat foods to the right temperature; don’t keep food out of the refrigerator too long.

Staphylococcus (Staph)

Coughing and sneezing, or when food comes into direct contact with a wound infected with staph. Contaminated foods left at room temperature too long.

Found everywhere: in the air, soil and water; on surfaces and in, and on our bodies. Meat, poultry and egg products; salads like egg, tuna, chicken, potato; bakery products with cream; milk and dairy products.

Nausea, cramping, vomiting, diarrhea.

Keep foods at the right temperature, cover cuts with bandages or wear gloves to handle food.


Infected food handlers.

Food that is infected and left at room temperature too long.

Strep throat and scarlet fever. (The type of strep not spread by food causes more serious skin infections.)

Avoid leaving food at room temperature more than 2 hours—1 hour if temperature is above 90 F (32 C).

Listeria monocytogenes

Found in soil, moist environments and rotting vegetation. Foods commonly eaten raw or uncooked that have been in contact with raw

 meats, contaminated dirt or water.

Raw or unpasteurized milk; smoked fish and other seafood; meats, including deli meats and hot dogs; cheeses

(especially soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk); and raw vegetables. Can grow in the refrigerator.

Mild flu-like conditions for mom; sometimes

 results in miscarriage, still born birth or baby born with severe infection.

Avoid cold deli foods that can’t be reheated. Reheat deli meats and hot dogs and avoid unpasteurized milk and cheeses made from raw milk. Wash fruits and vegetables well. Keep refrigerator clean.


How it’s Spread:

Foods commonly Found in or History of Outbreaks From:

Symptoms/Special Risks:

How to Reduce your Risk

Giardia lambia
(The most common cause of non-bacterial diarrhea.)

Food or water contaminated by feces and hand-to-food contact. Often spread by child-care workers.

Can be found in swimming pools and fresh water like lakes and rivers; the infection is more common during summer months.

Foul-smelling diarrhea,

 fatigue and cramps. Some people have no symptoms. It causes temporary lactose intolerance in 40% of infected people.

Avoid drinking water from

 the outdoors when camping and hiking unless you have a filtration device. Boiling water for 5 minutes can kill the parasite. Practice good hand hygiene.


Contaminated water and food that has come in contact with it.

Swimming pools are a common source, as it is not killed by chlorine. Any

 contaminated food or water that is not heated.

Large amounts of watery diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, cramps and fever. Can cause dehydration, which is a

 concern for pregnant women.

Good personal hygiene. Using a water filtration system for drinking water. Wash fruits and vegetables well.

Toxoplasma Gondii
(50% of some populations appear to be infected.)

Cats and their feces, undercooked meats, contaminated soil and sand.

Raw and undercooked meat.

Mild flu-like symptoms. Infected fetuses develop learning, visual, and hearing disabilities later in life. The parasite can reside in the brain and may

subtly affect behavior, including poor reaction times and short attention spans.

Avoid changing the litter box. Wear gloves while gardening and changing the litter box (if you must.) Wash hands after handling raw meats.

The leading cause of food borne illness in the US.)

Food and water as well as contact with an infected person or a surface with the virus on it.

 Several large outbreaks have occurred on cruise ships.

Any food handled by an infected person; oysters from contaminated water. Drinking contaminated water from the ground, tap, river, lake or swimming pool.

Projectile vomiting, watery diarrhea, headaches, mild fever and muscle aches.

Proper food handling practices and washing hands often with soap

 and water. Alcohol based anti-bacterial gel and chlorine based disinfectants don’t kill this virus.


Food handled by an infected person and not cooked before eaten. Mostly spread from hand-to-mouth from an infected person who doesn’t wash

 hands well.

Salads, raw fruits and vegetables; hors d’oeuvres.

Mild watery diarrhea, but sometimes with more severe symptoms like fever and


Wash hands frequently and avoid hand-to-mouth contact. Avoid eating raw food prepared by someone who was recently sick.

Hepatitis A

Food or water contaminated by feces. Often from sewage contamination and infected food handlers.

Water, shellfish, salads.

Fever, nausea, vomiting, jaundice.

Take care when traveling to countries with poor sanitation—avoid tap water and raw produce. Cooking destroys the


Vibrio parahaemolyticus
Vibrio vulnificus

Contaminated water from coastal ocean areas and estuaries and fish and live shellfish. Outbreaks occur more often in summer months when warm water encourages bacterial growth.

Raw and undercooked oysters and other shellfish. Has been linked to finfish, squid, octopus and lobster and shrimp in Asian countries. Can also cause serious infections on the skin through wounds.

Diarrhea, cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever.

Avoid raw and undercooked seafood. Avoid cross contamination with raw seafood and food that’s ready-to-eat.

Other Toxins in Foods

How it’s Spread:

Foods commonly Found in or History of Outbreaks From:

Symptoms/Special Risks:

How to Reduce your Risk


Tropical fish that eat certain marine algae.

Barracuda, amberjack, other large jacks, and large groupers and snappers, but could be

 found in other fish.

Numbness and tingling around the mouth, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, joint and muscle aches, headache, dizziness, muscle weakness, slow or fast heartbeat, extreme sensitivity to temperature.

Ask before eating recreationally caught fish in tropical areas like South Florida, the Bahamas, the US and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii. Toxin can’t be reduced by cooking or freezing.

(One of the most common forms of fish poisoning in the US. Onset of symptoms can be immediate to a few hours.)

Forms as raw fish decompose from improper refrigeration. Fish won’t necessarily look or smell spoiled.

Tuna, mahi mahi, bluefish, sardines, mackerel, amberjack, and anchovies.

Tingling or burning of the mouth or throat, rash or hives, low blood pressure, itching, headache, dizziness,

 nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fluttery heartbeat, and trouble breathing.

Cooking, freezing and canning won’t get rid of this toxin. Proper refrigeration and

 buying fish from a reliable source is the best prevention.

Kidney bean lectin Phytohaemagglutinin

Lectins are a natural protein found in beans that can become toxic. High levels can sometimes be found in kidney beans.

Red and white kidney beans.

Nausea and vomiting.

Avoid raw kidney beans; cook thoroughly. Avoid slow-cookers for kidney beans because the temperature doesn’t get hot enough to

 destroy the toxin.


Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. US Food and Drug Administration. Bad Bug Book, 2nd ed. April 2012. [Cited 1-Sep-12].

Lafferty K. Can the common brain parasite toxoplasma gondii, influence human culture? Proc Biol Sci. 2006 November 7;273(1602): 2749–2755. [Cited 24-Jul-12]. Available from: